If you’ve ever wondered why older Singaporeans use quaint British expressions like “donkey’s ears”, a trip to London, the capital of Singapore’s former colonial masters, might be in order. To Singaporeans used to suffocating heat and humidity, the much-complained-about gray weather might even be a welcome change.
Culture-starved Singaporeans are liable to go nuts at the Tate Modern, the British Museum or the many theatres playing anything from Shakespeare to Broadway musicals. On the other hand, if you just want to shop till you drop, the five storey-high Topshop at Oxford Circus might be enough to give you a heart attack.
The Singapore-London route is a very popular one. It’s quite rare to find the kind of sub-$1,000 deal you can snag on flights to destinations like Athens or Rome. That being said, prices rarely get insanely inflated.
Most times of year, you should be able to find flights for about $1,000 to $1,100. Qatar, Etihad and Emirates tend to offer good deals, while Qantas has frequent sales. Avoid the school holidays as you’ll end up paying at least 200 SGD to 300 SGD more.
Cost: 1,000 SGD
The backpacking scene in London is alive and well, and you won’t find yourself blindly knocking on the doors of old buildings hoping someone has a spare room to rent like you might do in countries like Spain.
Unfortunately, London isn’t cheap by any standards, and 20 SGD to 35 SGD will get you a bed in a dorm that’s about as far from the Ritz as you can imagine, probably filled with drunken backpackers who will return at 4am.
If you’re travelling during the summer vacation for British university students (between May and August), you should jump at the chance to rent a university dorm room, which can cost as little as 30 SGD for a single room or go up to about 70 SGD per night for twin sharing. The London of School of Economics, University College London, London Metropolitan University, King’s College and University of Westminster all rent out rooms during the summer, as does an organisation called International Students House. If you’re in London during the right time of year, this is an option that’s well worth considering if you feel too old to share a hostel room with ten gap year kids.
If you’re travelling alone, on a tight budget and it’s the dead of winter, you’re pretty much out of luck, since you’re probably not going to find a room in central London for under 65 SGD on Airbnb. If you’re travelling with a companion, you can get a room that sleeps two in Zone 1 for about 100 SGD.
Cost: 35 SGD a night / 245 SGD for a week
The famous London Tube is about all you need to get around on a week-long visit. While it might seem a little older and more run down than the MRT, don’t be fooled. Stations are laid out so close together you’ll rarely have to walk more than fifteen minutes to any destination.
Get an Oyster card at any station for convenient Ez-Link-like goodness. It also saves you money as you pay less than half the price for a flat-fare ticket with an Oyster Card. You should also consider buying day travelcards or 7-day passes (which can be added to your Oyster Card), which can save you a bit of money if you’ll be on the move a lot.
Within Zones 1 and 2, single trips cost 2.20 GBP. A day pass costs 9 GBP (18 SGD) (8.90 GBP if you only travel during off-peak hours), while a 7 day pass costs 31.40 GBP (64 SGD).
Cost: 64 SGD
While no one in their right mind would call London a cheap destination, many of its main sights are free. Taking pictures of the Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace, chilling out at Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square or having a browse at Spitalfields and Portobello Market cost nothing. In addition, most of the museums are completely free.
- British Museum – free (except special exhibitions)
- National Gallery – free (except special exhibitions)
- Natural History Museum – free (except special exhibitions)
- Tate Modern – free (except special exhibitions)
- Madame Tussauds – 15 GBP (30 SGD)
- London Eye – 29.50 GBP (26.55 GBP or 54 SGD if you book online)
The thing about London is that there are so many things to do and so many museums to visit that how much or how little you spend is really within your control. Obviously, if you’re going to insist on riding on the London Eye you’re going to be paying a lot more than someone who’s happy to just potter around the museums.
Cost: 30 pounds (61 SGD)
If you’re a self-proclaimed foodie on the hunt for Michelin-starred restaurants, you can easily blow your life savings eating in London. However, since this article is about visiting London on a budget, let’s talk about less frou-frou eateries.
Head to pubs or delis and you can get a filling meal of roast, pie or pasta for 3.50 GBP (7 SGD) to 5 GBP (10 SGD). Come to think about it, that’s even less than what you might pay at a “pub” in Singapore. Another option is to go for ethnic food such as Indian, Greek or kebab, which tends to be cheaper.
Cost: 12 GBP per day / 84 GBP (171 SGD) for a week
Total: 1,541 SGD
Not too bad, considering 2/3 of the cost goes to your flight. That means it costs only $541 to enjoy a week of London life, which is less than some people pay to exist in Singapore.
If you are looking to get away, make sure you’re able to travel with peace of mind with a good travel insurance plan. You can check out all the best plans available on MoneySmart’s new Travel Insurance Comparison Page now!
Are you inspired to travel to London? Let us know in the comments!
duncan c, Davide Simonetti, Mark Bowler, Ewan Munro